I spend the next 108 days meditating in the Black Rabbit Union. My back becomes stiff, my knees often also stiffen, and I start smelling like a poor beggar due to not bathing often.
But it is necessary.
In the inner courtyard, Hoyeon Cheong teaches Cha Sung-tae, and in the outer courtyard, the subordinates of the Black Rabbit Union continue to train.
I also circulate Qi on the rooftop of the Black Rabbit Union.
I train using the Qi Breathing Technique regardless of venue. I train in the baths, on the walls, under the plum blossom tree, inner courtyard, outer courtyard, and bedroom.
Occasionally, Dokgo Saeng, the Four Generals, Manager Byuk, Geum-hae, Hong-shin, etc., would come to find me, but I do not respond much as I am acting like a person doing secluded training.
My answer is always the same.
“Figure it out on your own.”
I don’t want to intervene in things they could decide and judge independently. I decided to circulate Qi for 108 days because the Fire Chicken state of the Strolling Golden Turtle Technique feels somewhat ambiguous. I feel I can move on to the Fighting Chicken stage soon, so I have no choice but to concentrate.
My subordinates also realize that I am facing a critical point in my martial arts training. They then proceed to take care of the work while consulting amongst themselves as much as possible.
108 days is a strange period of time that is both short and long.
On some days, I circulate my Qi while looking at the petals falling from under the plum tree all day. I occasionally take a break to drink water and eat some food when I can’t stand it.
Thanks to that, I lost more weight.
Whenever I need a break, I go into the inner courtyard and watch Cha Sung-tae train.
The way Cha Sung-tae is exaggerating his pain is very him, so I don’t bother to interfere.
After thirty or forty days have passed.
Dae Na-chal, Mister Su, and Elder Hornless Dragon’s deaths became widely known to the neighboring Unorthodox forces.
Manager Byuk reports that the news has spread to all the Unorthodox Factions in Namhwa and Ihwa regions that the Black Rabbit Union Leader is on the rise.
Manager Byuk asks.
“Wouldn’t it be better to correct the rumor from the Black Rabbit Union Leader to Low-Down Sect Leader?”
For the first time in a while, I reply to Manager Byuk.
“You don’t have to do that.”
I’m planning on using an Unorthodox Faction as a front for the time being. The main quarters of the Low-Down Sect are still under construction back in Ilyang.
Also, it doesn’t amount to much just because we have gained domination over Unorthodox Factions in two towns. Forget the overall landscape of the central district. It won’t even show up on the map of the Unorthodox Factions.
This place is still a frontier.
None of the opponents I competed with in my past life have appeared. No masters have come to bother me since my return either.
I’ve managed to buy a lot of time to train after fulfilling part of my big scheme by getting rid of Dae Na-chal and Mister Su.
The subordinates of the Black Rabbit Union, including So Gun-pyeong, are also training fiercely.
Cha Sung-tae also practices hard every day as if he is going crazy.
Of course, I am the one training the hardest.
Thinking of this as my duty as the commander-in-chief, I immerse myself deeper into the Qi breathing technique.
Let’s burn away every little thing in our daily lives with some concentration…
Whenever I close my eyes and open them, sometimes it is dawn, sometimes night.
The moon and the sun, the wind and rain, the reports of my subordinates, and the occasional hunger pang aren’t enough to interfere with my training.
A man who forgets everything when he focuses on training, that’s me.
By the time I’ve lost track of how many days have passed, the internal Qi I converted from the Heavenly Pearl has completely mastered the Fire Chicken. Currently, I am repeating full circuits of the Fighting Chicken (鬪鷄).
From that point on, I started gradually listening to my subordinates.
The meals I ate once every two days have now increased to three times a day. By reducing the times I practice Qi circulation, I allow myself to start diving into physical training like my Black Rabbit Union subordinates.
Mixing in with the crowd of training subordinates, I change my stance according to So Gun-pyeong’s instructions and build up my physical strength alongside these scum without complaints.
The atmosphere was stiff when I first joined the intense training alongside my men. Later, everyone became used to it to the point where even I became unsure if I was initially a scum of the Black Rabbit Union or simply a leader who had gotten closer with everyone.
My body was thin during the first half of the 108 days of training.
After entering the Fighting Chicken stage in the second half of my training period, muscles reappear in my limbs. I am fully recovered back to my previous physical state.
One day, I am just peacefully breathing under the plum blossom tree.
I hear Cha Sung-tae’s voice.
“Leader, today marks the 108th day.”
Opening my eyes, I reply.
In the meantime, Cha Sung-tae had transformed into a hairy man holding a sword. In fact, his gaze and posture have drastically changed, so it wasn’t necessary to check further. Still, it is only appropriate to give him a compliment.
“Do you think you’ve become stronger?”
Cha Sung-tae smiles.
“I am way stronger than I was 108 days ago.”
For a moment, I want to tell him to train for another 108 days, but I hold myself back. Though I’m good at using the whip, giving too much of it isn’t the right thing to do.
This time, I look at Hoyeon Cheong.
“Sung-tae, are you sure you’ve gotten stronger?”
Hoyeon Cheong answers.
“Leader, he is now a swordsman. Though it was a short time, he’d learned all the basics, principles, and forms of the Fast Ray Sword (分光快劍). I also taught him an internal Qi method; after dinner, he’s mainly amassing Qi with me. Although we didn’t have enough time to build internal Qi, he still managed to learn how to extract Qi and use it.”
I use my hand to smoothen my skin.
“You did your best. How do you feel about teaching him?”
Hoyeon Cheong, who hesitates for a while, gives me a somewhat surprising answer.
“I want to continue teaching him if you allow me to.”
I look at Hoyeon Cheong with a puzzled expression.
Come to think of it, Hoyeon Cheong’s demeanor when he had been taken as a prisoner had also disappeared.
What kind of enlightenment did he gain while teaching Cha Sung-tae?
He is entirely different from my first impression of him.
“Sung-tae, what about you?”
Cha Sung-tae replies.
“I want to keep learning, too.”
I then speak to the two.
“Stand side by side.”
I look at Hoyeon Cheong and Cha Sung-tae with my arms crossed. Hoyeon Cheong is over 10 years older than Cha Sung-tae. This relationship is no different than that of a master and his student.
I look at the two of them and nod.
“The three of us have kept our oaths, so do as you please from now on.”
Hoyeon Cheong and Cha Sung-tae reply to me calmly.
I ask Cha Sung-tae.
“Sung-tae, how does it feel to now be in Kangho?”
Cha Sung-tae replies briefly.
“If you waste time drinking and eating away in the pavilion, you wouldn’t die because you are weak in martial arts. But now it’s harder to survive because of the martial arts you’ve learned.”
That’s the Kangho I know.
Cha Sung-tae replies while looking at me.
“I’m just getting started. I do not regret it. I didn’t know if it was because I was getting stronger day by day. I like it.”
I expected Cha Sung-tae to give this answer.
This is what it’s like for the majority of Kangho warriors.
Most people don’t regret their lives unless a sword is stuck in their hearts. This is because they have fallen into the crazy, powerful charm of becoming stronger.
“Good work, Hoyeon Cheong.”
I don’t think much about Hoyeon Cheong anymore. If I don’t see Hoyeon Cheong around someday, it means he left to find a way to survive. If he visits the Black Rabbit Union from time to time, like the Four Generals and Dokgo Saeng, then we will have a connection.
I decided to just follow the flow.
A breezy, sunny day.
I wash up and change for the first time in a long time and take the gold and silver ingots given by the Green Mount Sect Leader with me.
As I pass the inner courtyard, Cha Sung-tae asks me.
“Where are you going?”
“Me? I’m gonna do some sparring gambles. I’ll also go look around lhwa on my way.”
I can hear Cha Sung-tae and Hoyeon Cheong chat behind me.
“What is a sparring gamble?”
“What do you think? Betting money on fights.”
“Why is the leader suddenly…”
“I’m not sure either.”
A sparring gambling den; I am thinking about visiting one.
The reason why my face had gotten scarred in my previous life was due to the sparring gambling den. I was beaten up a lot. People’s faces change when their faces get hit a lot.
A sparring gamble is divided into two categories.
Armed fights and bare-handed fights. I learned a lot there. I realized I could learn a lot, even from losing. I learned how to fight back while being hit and how to grasp the strength of the opponent through their appearance, atmosphere, and eyes.
There is also a reason why people who reach the bottom of their lives often visit sparring gambling dens.
They make some money even if they lose.
I’m relatively younger compared to when I frequented gambling dens in my past life. The people who stay there for a long time tend to remain the same.
To sum it up, the levels in sparring gambling are a mess.
Sometimes, mysterious Unorthodox Faction masters come to make quick cash by hiding their identity.
Often, these mysterious Unorthodox Faction masters will cause a childish, big fight among themselves.
The sparring gambling den located in a town nearby called Siryun is the most famous. What is unique is that the whole market there is geared around the gambling den. They sell alcohol or food to spectators and participants alike, brothels are prevalent, and there are other gambling dens in addition to the sparring gambling dens.
Though I haven’t visited in a while, my memory is completely restored as I look around.
I know all the people gathered here, but they don’t know me.
It was so ridiculous that I must laugh.
‘This hell of a place is still the same.’
I go into an inn that I used to frequent and begin drinking.
As I think about this place that has been weighing my mind for quite some time, the alcohol goes straight in.
All the guys in the inn are fighters who participated in the sparring fight, so the atmosphere is really menacing.
Unlike in my previous life, my looks have mellowed out, so I look like a nerd.
I am chewing on dry snacks and looking around when a big guy approaches and drinks my alcohol without permission.
As I laugh, the big guy laughs along.
He then says as he sits across from me.
“I’ve never seen you before. Buy your bro here a drink. I’ll explain things well.”
I down the rest of the booze and smash him on the head as soon as I grab the bottle.
As his head lowers with a thud.
I grab his head and hit it on the table continuously.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
I pull him up by his hair and check his face. A broken nose, and three or four crippled front teeth. I shove his head away and find the errand boy. Since there is a commotion, it isn’t hard to lock eyes with the errand boy.
“Give me some more Kaoliang liquor.”
The errand boy simply mutters.
I then tell the blood-covered guy who is looking at me.
He jumps up and goes somewhere, squeezing past the crowd.
These types of guys have a habit of coming back after being told to get lost.
People around me burst into laughter. The errand boy scurries over, wipes the table, and places the newly brought dry snacks alongside two liquor bottles, saying.
“That guy is the red-light districts’ brothel owner (娼館主, owner of a house of prostitutes). He’s going to bring his people here. Would you be alright?”
“How many people does he usually bring?”
“He’ll bring around a dozen people.”
I, flicking my finger at the errand boy and say.
“Can I make some money?”
The errand boy looks at me, blurting a “Huh?” and observing me.
“Have you been here before? This is my first time.”
“I’ve been here in the past.”
The errand boy hurries around busily, brings a large basket, and waves a bell on the ceiling.
Ring, ring, ring!
The customers all turn and look at the errand boy in unison.
The errand boy says.
“Is there anyone who would like to participate in an inn sparring? This gentleman is facing off against the beaten-up Heuk Gyeong, the brothel owner. He would have about 10 men, right? This has no participation fee, so we’ll bet on the winner. The young gentleman on the left, Heuk Gyeong on the right. 500 nyangs will be added to the prize. Here we go!”
As the errand boy walks around the inn with a basket, money begins to fill the basket with a piece of cardboard, splitting it down the middle.
The money is placed on the left and right sides.
In the meantime, all the sparring gamblers in the inn are looking at me.
Someone brazenly asks me where I am from, so I answer briefly.
“Pay the money and then ask your questions.”
I remember the old days, so I curse.
“……You fucking bastards.”
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